Two children killed in the sea off Bournemouth may have been overcome after being hit by the wash from a boat.
A 12-year-old girl and 17-year-old boy were pulled from the water with “critical injuries” on Wednesday, before being rushed to hospital where they were pronounced dead.
Officers investigating the deaths have revealed they are working on the belief that there was no actual contact between “a vessel and any swimmers” at the time of tragedy.
A man in his 40s described as being “on the water” at the time has been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter.
Rachel Farrell, the assistant chief constable of Dorset Police, said on Thursday: “Following enquiries, a man aged in his 40s who was on the water at the time has been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter.
“I am able to tell you that it’s clear that yesterday a number of people already in the water got into difficulty and we are investigating the circumstances or event that caused that to happen.”
She said that early investigations indicated that there was “no physical contact between a vessel and any of the swimmers at the time of the incident”.
She added that “there is no suggestion of people jumping from the pier or jet-skis being involved”.
RNLI lifeguards dashed into the sea on Wednesday afternoon as ten people faced the risk of being swept away by a sudden and strong undercurrent.
The beach was crowded with hundreds of families enjoying 23C sun during the May half-term holiday.
An 18-year-old swimmer is believed to have spotted the 12-year-old girl floating in the sea and helped bring her to the beach, where she was given CPR.
The lifeless body of the 17-year-old boy was then spotted washed up close to the shoreline, and lifeguards and an ambulance crew attempted to save him, before they were both airlifted to hospital.
The force said it received a report from paramedics at 4.32pm of people requiring assistance on the beach near the pier.
Witnesses reported their shock as they saw “loads of people rushing on to the beach” as two air ambulances, RNLI lifeguards, paramedics and coastguard descended on the scene.
The beach and the nearby Pier Approach were cleared, with a major incident declared and a cordon set up.
Eeman Qamar, 33, from Southampton, was sat on the beach with her 59-year-old mother and three-month-old baby throughout the incident.
She told The Telegraph that “within seconds it just went from a normal fun day out at the beach to a very serious situation – tense, grave and sombre”.
“At around 4.15pm we heard the lifeguards ringing the bells and they rushed up to us in a panic asking us to leave the area as an air ambulance was approaching. Within a couple of minutes I saw lots of people running from the pier side of the beach to the other side,” she said.
“Then at around 4.30pm we saw lifeguards on jet skis and boats in the water, at least six big ambulances, doctor cars, RNLI and coastguard cars and lots of police, followed by the air ambulances which landed quickly about 20 minutes apart.”
She said she “definitely did not see anybody jumping off the pier, nor did the people around me”.
But she added that she saw “quite a few leisure jet skis in the water around the pier”, which were “going around fast with people having a good time”.
Rob Creech, the father of the 18-year-old swimmer who came to the dying girl’s aid, said: “My son was on the other side of the pier swimming with a few friends. All of a sudden there were a lot of people on the pier shouting and screaming that there was somebody in the water.
“He scooped her up to swim to shore... the emergency services took it from there.”
Nicola Holton, 43, and Stuart Clark, 42, who were on the beach with their two children when the tragedy unfolded, said the beach became “a scene from a horror film” shortly after lifeguards announced there was “a dangerous riptide”.
Mr Clark said: “As we walked to the east side of the pier there was at least one but probably a few jet skiers going across the right side of the pier. It got really chaotic when they brought a young man back to shore on a lifeguard jet ski. It was obvious he wasn’t alive.”
Ms Holton said: “When we first spotted the swimmers in distress they were far out to the east side of the pier.
“A lifeguard ran into the water with a surfboard and it seemed to take ages for him to get to them... A few were taken to the lifeguard tent and then we saw the young man and girl brought out. We were packing up our things to leave as quickly as we could. It was just awful.
“There were loads of idiots ignoring lifeguard requests to get out of the water and clear the beach. People were running towards those having CPR filming on their phones.”
There are yellow marker buoys 200m off the beach, and water craft operating inside that area are restricted to speeds of six knots.
Det Ch Supt Neil Corrigan, of Dorset Police, said: “Our thoughts are with the loved ones of the young people who tragically died and we are doing all we can to support their families.
“I understand the beach was very busy at the time of the incident and I would ask anyone with information that may assist our enquiries to please come forward.
“We are at the early stages of our investigation and would ask people not to speculate about the circumstances surrounding the incident.”
The RNLI said: “We would like to offer our condolences to the family and loved ones of the two young people who sadly lost their lives yesterday at Bournemouth beach.
“RNLI lifeguards along with volunteer crews from RNLI Mudeford worked with emergency services to provide search and rescue, and casualty care. This incident is now in the hands of Dorset Police and we will not offer any further comment at this point.”
Conor Burns, the MP for Bournemouth West, said the tragedy was a “salutary lesson that our beaches and ocean can give much pleasure but danger is ever present”.
“A dreadful event in circumstances when they were enjoying beautiful weather in our town. So sad,” he wrote on Twitter. “Thanks to the lifeguards and the Air Ambulance who we can take for granted.”
Worrying scenes at the beach in Bournemouth, police, air and road ambulances, all in attendance. pic.twitter.com/gIMNjr9U1l
— Matt Graveling (@mattgraveling) May 31, 2023
Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative MP for Bournemouth East, said: “This is a tragic incident. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the young girl and boy who lost their lives.
“Thank you to all the emergency services that responded so quickly.”
The investigation is being led by Dorset Police alongside the Marine Accident Investigation Branch and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.